When you watch “Saturday Night Live,” there’s a certain pleasure to be derived from well-written gags, sketches that go off like a well-oiled machine, and the Digital Shorts that go viral as soon as they’re broadcast. But sometimes, the main appeal of the show is simply to watch your favorite comedians crack up, breaking character in a fun reminder that on live TV there is no second take.
That’s the impetus behind the hilarious compilation above, looking back at some of the all-time great “SNL” talents who couldn’t stifle their smiles. With the clip as inspiration, here’s a ranking of the top 10 “Not Ready For Primetime Players” who had us in stitches every time they had trouble holding it together.
10. David Spade
Typically, Spade was one of the more dependable early-’90s “SNL” talents. But his love for (and appreciation of) pal Chris Farley shone through. It was no surprise, then, that when he was a supporting player in what might have been Farley’s greatest “SNL” moment — the debut of Matt Foley — Spade essentially spent the entire five-plus minutes of the sketch with his hand over his face. The fact that he was cracking up also didn’t help that week’s host, Christina Applegate.
9. Gilda Radner
Arguably the most beloved “SNL” cast member of all time, this sketch pioneer always had a smile on her face — and may have been a bit too quick to laugh at times. It didn’t matter — “SNL” viewers (and Candice Bergen) inevitably enjoyed laughing along with her.
8. Fred Armisen
One of the most versatile cast members in “SNL” history, Armisen spit out plenty of funny lines with a straight face. But when it came time to share the stage with Kristen Wiig, that seemed to make the job more difficult. And if the two of them were together in a “Californians” sketch? Forget about it.
7. Kristen Wiig
It’s no secret that Wiig’s “Lawrence Welk Show”-spoofing character with the tiny hands was hilarious. Quite often, Wiig herself seemed to think as much and couldn’t keep a straight face with those doll hands on.
6. Maya Rudolph
This funny “SNL” lady certainly made lots of other cast members laugh, but it was Wiig who most often got her. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, the Wiig years of “SNL” rarely aired an entire episode without some cast members cracking up — and in sketches like the one below, the lines were barely audible between the laughs.
5. Rachel Dratch
This 1999 – 2006 cast member may have been the first to use “breaking character” as a character trait. What other choice did she have, playing Debbie Downer?
Her most famous character, Dratch’s role required her to deliver a hilariously depressing line (“Ever since they found Mad Cow Disease in the US, I’m not taking any chances!”) as the camera zoomed in on her face and the “SNL” band played a sad trombone noise.
As the character grew in popularity, her lines grew more depressing and Dratch had an even harder time delivering them. Ultimately, an unspoken agreement went down between the audience and the actress: She could crack-up on almost every punchline, and they’d just love it all the more.
4. Kate McKinnon
Quite possibly the funniest current “SNL” star, McKinnon credits Aidy Bryant as the one person who always makes her break character. “If you don’t want to break, you don’t want to look at Aidy,” she told Glamour magazine last year. “I’m laughing right now, thinking of her.” But McKinnon never fails to get her revenge — both Bryant and Leslie Jones credit her as most likely to make them break character.
3. Horatio Sanz
Quite honestly, it’s hard to find a sketch with Sanz that didn’t have him cracking up. From 1998 – 2006, he was the amicable center of the show, and starred in such memorable sketches as the one below.
2. Bill Hader
If Dratch’s Debbie Downer invented the concept of making “breaking character” the key concept of a character, than Bill Hader’s Stefon certainly perfected it. Of course, a big part of the laughter was that John Mulaney — an “SNL” writer at the time — would often add lines into the script at the last second with the intention of cracking up an unsuspecting Hader. Mission accomplished.
Regardless of what went on behind the scenes, the end result was clear: Fans loved Stefon, and Hader’s laughs were infectious.
1. Jimmy Fallon
Some folks loved Fallon during his “SNL” years, and others … well, not so much. Strangely enough, both sides pointed to the same thing to strengthen their argument: The fact that he could never get through a sketch without laughing.
Whatever the case, it worked out well: Fallon has gone on to become arguably one of the most successful of all the “SNL” alumni, and now he’s cracking himself up five nights a week on “The Tonight Show.”
Perhaps, the most character-breaking star in the history of Saturday nights always knew that he would get the last laugh.